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Flawed Study, Bad Science—Outrageous Conclusion

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Writing 1+1=3 on a blackboard.You may have read that eating more omega-3 fatty acids doesn’t help heart patients. You absolutely will not believe what the researchers did to arrive at this result.

The researchers fed the poor human guinea pigs margarine—yes, margarine!—otherwise known as the extremely heart unhealthy form of fat called trans fat.
In the study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the researchers gave heart attack survivors between the ages of 60 and 80 one of four kinds of margarine: one that had additional omega-3s from fish, one that had plant-derived omega-3s, one that had both, and one without any added omega-3s (the control sample). The patients ate 4 tablespoons of it a day, on bread, for 3½ years. Researchers found no difference between the groups, no matter what kind of margarine they ate.
By now we thought that everyone, even conventional doctors, knew that margarine is made by hydrogenating oil, which creates a trans fat, which damages the heart. Did the researchers really think that adding a little omega-3 to it would make much of a difference?
The study designers also seemed blissfully unaware that there are different kinds of omega-3 fatty acids. Some are able to be utilized directly by the body, whereas others, like lenolenic acid derived from vegetable sources, need to be converted by the body before one can use them—and older people have increasing trouble making that conversion, much less older sick people.
Moreover, most fish oil is about a third DHA, two-thirds EPA. The researchers didn’t seem to know about previous research showing that only DHA helps the heart; EPA doesn’t have a significant impact. It isn’t that EPA is useless—it helps other conditions such as arthritis and inflammation—but it doesn’t seem to help the heart. (Dr. Frank Shallenberger discusses this research in his August 2010 RealCures newsletter.)
The bottom line: this study had a very small amount of DHA, some of it not bio-available, battling against a trans fat in elderly, sick patients. How could anyone expect an improvement? Did the researchers who put together the trial simply not know any of this and wasted the time and money? Or did they design the trial to fail?
It probably wasn’t the latter. The study’s leader, Daan Kromhout of Wageningen University in the Netherlands, noted that it’s generally recommended that people eat one or two servings a week of wild oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, or tuna. “The results of this trial do not change that,” he said, noting that there were no harmful side effects. “It’s still a good thing to eat fish once or twice a week.”
Dr. Stephen Kopecky, a cardiologist at the Mayo Clinic said it may have been a matter of too little, too late—the dose was so tiny and the patients were enrolled many years after their initial heart attack—on average four years: “If you wait too long, sometimes you miss that window to benefit them.”
Kopecky also said he tells his heart patients to take 1,000 milligrams of fish oil daily. “The benefit potentially is so great that we tend to put patients on it quite often,” he said.
Fortunately, conventional medicine isn’t dead set against fish oil, the way it was for so many years. Perhaps this is because there is now an FDA-approved version. Being an FDA approved “drug” means that Medicare and Medicaid and the VA can use it. Too bad the FDA-approved version of fish oil costs 7 to10 times as much as fish oil supplements.

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